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Who actually benefits from Quantified Self?


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Part of my skepticism about Quantified Self is that I just don't know who is supposed to benefit from it and what real health problems it's supposed to solve. This is a fair article that covers a range of use cases, some of which are actually valuable if not reproducible: finding out which drugs best control Parkinson's or asthma for a particular individual, for instance.

However, a lot of the uses seemed trivial or even counterproductive. Do you really need an app on your phone to tell you that booze adversely affects your reaction time and makes it harder to sleep? Cause my mom and drivers ed class told me that shit when I was like 15 years old. And my experience with any sort of "calorie-burning" app is that it causes people to OVERESTIMATE how much they can eat because they feel like they're burning hundreds of calories.

Most of the fittest people I know, who stick to good habits for years, don't need to track shit because:

1) They just don't have a lot of variance in their routines. If you know you need X hours of sleep a night and you have a job, you go to bed at the same time every night. If you need X grams of protein and fats, you are probably eating a lot of the same foods every day.

2) They focus on how they feel. The best training advice I probably ever got was: "When you get up in the morning, if you feel awesome then hit the road. If you feel less than awesome, stay in bed and read."

3) They keep it simple and fight the urge to overoptimize. It's hard to even get the basics right: 8 hours sleep, 25 gm of fiber, water, cardio, full-body strength training, and maybe a little something in the meditation/gratitude/attitude-adjustment area. Once you do all that for a couple years, you might need to fine-tune... but until then, you're fooling yourself.

I think the biggest question I have for the Quantified Self movement is: who will track the trackers? Is anyone tracking the performance of these apps over a couple of years to see whether they have a higher long-term success rate than any other methodology that involves serious behavioral modification (which is to say VERY LOOOOWWWW)?

I think quantified self apps can be valuable to the average person simply because they make people cognizant of something they may have paid no attention to before. Many people have no idea how many calories they're eating or burning and then are "stumped" as to why they can't lose weight. This is the equivalent of not tracking deposits or withdrawals from your bank account and being shocked you ended up overdrawn. Just getting people to realize "This pizza has a lot of calories" or "my pedometer says I barely moved today" is actually pretty powerful:

http://www.bakadesuyo.com/whats-more-effective-than-exercise-in-losing

Looking at the fittest people who have very good habits may not be realistic for most people. I think the biggest chasm to cross is being aware vs not being aware. Sometimes reminders are all people need to improve their behavior for the better:

http://www.bakadesuyo.com/can-teddy-bears-make-you-more-ethical

I had a similar discussion yesterday with a friend, but in relation to junior college curriculum/credit tracking. Some students need guidance even in the most rudimentary facets of "motivation". Quantified self apps may serve as simply a more dynamic alarm clock if that even makes any sense. I'm probably talking out of my bumper.

I've heard the argument that Quantified Self helps average people who don't know anything, and I've ALSO heard the argument that it's really only going to help obsessive people who are already very fit because the level of knowledge is way above the average person's head. I actually wonder if either one is true.

Most of the apps I've seen, like the Fitbit, tell you how many calories you BURN but do not tell you how many you EAT. So it's like if your bank only told you about withdrawals but not deposits :)

The reason why I track things is, because I want to see how habits in different trackable areas affect each other. E.g. my weight, the amount of miles I cycle, with which pulse I cycle, what my blood pressure is, how much I slept and when, etc.

I think it can be quite exciting to see correlations there (or even causalities). Maybe I can tell you after summer, because now I am actually tracking blood pressure and heart rate. Can't wait to see how cycling affects this :-)

Good luck, Jannis. We expect to hear back from you by summer's end!

"Whatever is measured, improves"

It's true for startups, and true for people. The corollary:

"Be very careful what you measure"

Measure as little as possible so you don't waste a lot of time measuring. :)

On the whole, I think Americans are looking for easy solutions to age-old problems.

If you read:

Why We Get Fat

In Defense of Food

Omnivores Dilemma

Why French Children eat everything

Or even: Blink, Outliers, or Talent is OverRated

It seems like we're creating complex solutions in search of a simple problem.

People eat too many sugars, processed foods, and enriched flours. We won't give our puppies soy, wheat, or corn-based products and yet we give that stuff to humans?

People want there to be another truth; they want complexity, more data, sleeping apps and health-tracker iPhone Nike-sponsored fitness apps, when they could do things the simple way which is ...

Eat Well

Walk Much

Sleep without artificial light on a regular schedule

And solve most of their problems.

I walked into my doctor's office, and he looked at me bluntly, and said "David, 90% of your problems would go away if you just ate well, slept more, and walked regularly and no amount of medicine could change that."

I don't think the problem is about measuring more, or having more data. If you read Blink, you'll see that theory everywhere: more data does not necessarily help come to a better decision.

The actual empirical data is clear: most people are unhealthy because they are eating the wrong foods; for those who have deeper problems ( i have family members as such) they need medical attention to get them on track.

The rest is all hype, nonsense and marketing.

So why is it so hard to eat well and sleep more?

Why so hard to: Eat Well - food sources, cost vs convenience, actual knowledge of cooking (upbringing and culture)Sleep more - Time is a bitch, cultural and economic pressures/priority of working > anxiety

You're right. It seems that the cultural and economic pressures are the big ones.

FYI: KPCB led funding for MyfitnessPal... http://mashable.com/2013/08/12/myfitnesspal-funding/

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